A Case of Needing Serious Revisions



Michael Crichton has penned some of the most engaging, timely, and thoroughly accessible tales to be published in the last twenty-five years. What his novels lack in literary merit and distinctive style they make up for in crisp plotting and edge-of-your-seat suspense. From alien viruses to regenerated dinosaurs, from evil Japanese monoliths to the insidious maneuverings of the modern corporation, Crichton latches onto the scientific and political controversies of the day, and squeezes out of them every last ounce of shock value. At least, that\'s usually what he does.
A Case Of Need could have used quite a bit more shock value. The problem is largely a matter of timing; when the book came out in 1969, the moral dilemma surrounding illegal abortions was still a hot enough topic to seem ripped from the headlines. Though abortion certainly remains a hot-button issue, the debate has shifted. For the time being, at least, the argument centers on whether or not the act should be legal, not on whether or not doctors are currently breaking the law by performing them.
The antiquated plot line is not the story\'s main flaw. The biggest drawback here is a one-two punch of highly technical prose employed to relate a thoroughly dull story. Karen Randall, the daughter of an eminent physician, dies as the result of a botched abortion. Art Lee, a Chinese obstetrician, is accused of performing the D & C that has resulted in her death. Though Lee is known to be an abortionist, he vehemently denies any involvement in the case. Lee calls upon his friend, forensic pathologist John Berry, to clear his name.
John Berry careens back and forth from one Boston hospital to another, trying to figure out who actually performed Randall\'s abortion, and why it killed her. The investigation is complicated by the fact that Randall was not even pregnant. Slowly, a picture emerges of Randall as a freewheeling, loose woman with several abortions in her past, and connections to some shadowy underworld characters. Berry ultimately discovers that a drug-dealing musician was actually at fault for Randall\'s death.
Why did Michael Crichton write this book? The answer seems fairly obvious. Still fairly immersed in his medical school learnings, Crichton must have seen it as a chance to demonstrate just how much knowledge he had gained during his time at Harvard. Numerous medical procedures are described in detail, supplemented by footnotes and appendices for readers not in the know.
All of this technical gobbledygook turns out to be almost totally superfluous. Berry clears Lee\'s name largely through old-fashioned detective work rather than through forensic pathology. That Randall was not actually pregnant turns out to be one of the very few salient clues that science reveals.
Of course, without all that medical jargon, this book would have been almost entirely a study of law and American society, with science providing little more than a context in which the story can unfold. Crichton makes the terminology slightly more palatable by making Berry a fairly sarcastic and cynical practitioner of his craft. Still, one can only stomach so much detailed description of autopsies, biopsy examinations, and crit readings.
It is surprising that Crichton devoted so much ink to these scientific proceedings, when the ethics that lie behind the novel\'s central act (or, at least, supposed central act) are so much more engaging. The notion that abortion represents one of the murkiest legal and moral issues in the medical community is mentioned, but not expounded upon in any great detail.
Various statistics are quoted suggesting that abortion is a fairly safe procedure, and a doctor friend of Berry\'s makes a fairly eloquent speech regarding the positive aspects of getting rid of unwanted pregnancies, but there is no strong case ever made for either side.
What would have been most engaging, in course, would have been strong arguments made for both sides. There is perhaps no issue as divisive as abortion, no modern medical procedure that elicits such strong passion from advocate both for and against. Granted, Crichton was writing a potboiler, and excessive philosophizing would have turned the book into an even greater dud than it already is. However, a little solid, even-handed consideration of the themes